Nutrition and Hydration: The News on Nutritional Facts — Don’t Believe Everything You Read

“To change our eating habits, we must learn to eat mindfully, being more aware of chewing and tasting what we eat so that the brain can register the incoming nutrients.”

John M. Poothullil

A hyper focus on nutrition and hydration

There’s been a hyper focus on both nutrition and hydration in the last few years, much of it online. There’s been an explosion of nutrition and health experts creating excellent blogs, vlogs, and how-to-books, sharing helpful tips and the latest data on these topics. However, the commercial interest in human health and the wellness industry has also attracted many self-styled experts publishing claims that are at best partially accurate, or confusing, or in some cases completely spurious. In this article we’ll clear up some of the misunderstandings and factually incorrect information regarding nutrition and hydration. 

Let’s explore what nutrition is and why it plays such a vital part in human health. Nutrition means integrating and eating a balanced, healthy diet. The food a person ingests (potential fuel for the body) plays a major role in maintaining a healthy mind and body. In the words of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”. When an individual is eating the right food for their body and is mindful of avoiding foods with little or no nutritional value, they stand a much better chance of maintaining vital organs such as the heart, liver, and pancreas but also healthy blood circulation, brain function, skin, muscles, bones, and immune system. Optimum nutrition can also help to protect an individual against chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and Alzheimer’s. Oxford University states on nutrition: “Our body requires the ingestion and utilisation of food components to fulfil its basic functions. This is referred to as nutrition. Humans obtain most of their nutrients from their daily eating habits. According to age and physical conditions, the needed nutrients vary.”

Macronutrients and micronutrients

There are two main types of nutrition: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are needed to supply us with energy and consist of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Micronutrients are individual vitamins and minerals. Both types are essential to good health and vitality. In recent years, more scientists and nutritionists have encouraged individuals to follow a Mediterranean diet and a plant-based diet to reduce the chances of developing cardio-vascular disease and diabetes amongst others.  There are important caveats to these recommendations, however in both categories. For example, processed foods can be plant-based, but hold no nutritional value. It’s also prudent to avoid consuming excessive quantities of fruit because of the high fructose content of some fruits which can adversely affect the liver. And so, more than ever, it’s so important to double check labels and so-called plant-based products on the shelves. Having said that, there’s an abundance of plant-based and Mediterranean dishes which can greatly enhance healthy nutrition.

Let’s look at some of the recommendations categorised as “super foods” by Harvard Health Publishing (Health Blog). Keep in mind that every individual has a unique body, and dietary requirements may vary depending on several factors (hence the growing popularity of functional medicine in the USA in particular). At Addcounsel, we understand and recognise that there’s no “one size fits” when it comes to maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. Harvard Health Blog writes: “Over the years, research has shown that healthy dietary patterns can reduce risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Dietary patterns such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet, which are mostly plant-based, have demonstrated significant health benefits and reduction of chronic disease. However, there are a few foods that can be singled out for special recognition. These “superfoods” offer some very important nutrients that can power-pack your meals and snacks, and further enhance a healthy eating pattern.”

Recommended super-foods include:

  • Fish (oily fish for optimum brain health)
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Nuts (hazel nuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans)
  • Seeds
  • Olive oil, avocado oil, and other healthy oils
  • Berries
  • Whole grains
  • Plain yogurt
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips and those high in phytochemicals such as beetroot, red cabbage, and Swiss chard
  • Legumes such as kidney, black, red, and garbanzo beans, soybeans, and peas
  • Tomatoes (think of tomatoes soaked in 100% virgin olive oil)

How do nutrition and hydration impact mental health?

Aside from established facts that severe dehydration can be very dangerous, and, in some cases, fatal, recent studies have shown a link between dehydration negatively impacting mental health, mood, short-term memory, and ability to focus/concentrate. National Centre for Biotechnology of Information published a study on the effects of dehydration and hydration on cognitive performance and mood on males. The study was conducted on college students in China who refrained from drinking water for 36 hours, but were given 3 meals a day. The study states: “On day 4, the same indexes were tested as a baseline test. At 8:30 AM, participants drank 1500 mL of purified water over 15 min. After a 1h interval, the same measurements were performed. Compared with baseline test results, during the dehydration test, participants had lower scores of vigor and esteem-related affect, lower total scores of digit span, and higher error rates for dose-work. Compared with the dehydration test scores, rehydration test scores showed that fatigue and total mood disturbance improved, and scores of forward, backward, and total digit span increased.” The authors continue: “Increases were also noted in correct number of digit symbol substitutions, reading speed, and mental work ability, and reaction time decreased. As a conclusion, dehydration had negative effects on vigor, esteem-related affect, short-term memory, and attention. Rehydration after water supplementation alleviated fatigue and improved TMD, short-term memory, attention, and reaction.”

Research suggests drinking enough water (this will vary according to body ratio) can greatly help to reduce anxiety and depression. Water makes up 45% of brain mass which is dependent on sufficient hydration to function well. Many of us do not drink enough water and rely mainly on other drinks such as coffee, tea and juices which results in us being dehydrated daily and not drinking sufficient water for intracellular hydration (crucial for optimum brain health). Mental Health Foundation states: “Feeding the brain with a diet that provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and water can support healthy neurotransmitter activity. It can protect the brain from the effects of oxidants, which have been shown negatively to impact mood and mental health. Evidence of nutrition’s protective qualities can be identified across the life course.”

Nutrition also plays a crucial role in maintaining good mental and emotional health. A healthy diet will impact mood. Eating foods packed with antitoxins, vitamins, and minerals, replenishes, and nourishes the brain. Dr Mark Hyman, the renowned physician and functional medicine pioneer states in a recent interview with Dhru Purohit: “The brain responds to everything we do:  what we think, how we sleep, exercise and crucially, to what we ingest in our diet—all these factors influence our gut micro-biome and our brain function. Unfortunately, we have entered an era where our diet is so different from the one we have had over almost all of our human evolution. Ultra-processed foods, with their long lists of ingredients are fighting against our brain health”.

A nutritious diet will provide ample fuel for the brain, lower inflammation, reduce low mood, and increase physical energy.  A good nutritionist will often suggest to a client to monitor how they felt after eating a balanced meal. For example, did their mood improve? Did they feel a bit lighter? How did it affect their energy levels? The same questions can then be asked after a client has eaten an entire takeaway pizza at 1am, washed down with fizzy drinks or beer. How did they feel? Did they sleep well? Did they wake up with boundless energy or feel flat, bloated, and have a low mood? Observing how a person feels while eating, shortly thereafter and even the next day is a good start to monitoring foods that are helpful and those which are most definitely to be avoided. Although everyone has a different response to certain foods, nutritious foods can significantly improve mental health.

Unfounded scientific health claims to be mindful of

Unfortunately, so-called influencers and bloggers can be responsible for creating content which carries very little if any credible information. Similarly, multinational food companies are peddling misinformation and deliberately misleading consumers. A common trick is to label foods with specious information such as “multi-grain,” “made with whole grains,” “natural,” and “low cholesterol.” For example, the claim “made with wholegrains” implies that the product is predominantly wholegrain, whereas often, the wholegrain content is negligeable, and the product is in fact, packed with highly processed ingredients and harmful additives.  Let’s look at recent “scientific claims” online regarding health and nutrition which are unfounded.

Zero-sugar drinks are better for you than sugary soda

Removing sugar from a fizzy drink doesn’t mean it’s a healthier option. Even though a person may reduce calories in the very short-term from switching from sugary drinks to zero-sugar drinks, weight gain and inflammation can still follow. The question to ask is how much nutritional value a zero-sugar soda really has, and the answer is zero.

A low-fat diet is good for you

Marketing forces have worked tirelessly since the 1970s to convince consumers that a low-fat diet is healthy and promotes long-term wellbeing. If, by low-fat, they meant non-processed foods such as fresh vegetables, then yes, a low-fat diet is good for health. However, the reality is that the low-fat products relentlessly marketed by food companies are processed items which have simply had the fat content replaced with sugar, which is one of the most harmful, if not the most harmfulsubstance to brain health and human physiology we can consume.

Ready-made fruit juices are good for you

Once again, marketing forces has done a brilliant job in presenting their fruit juices to consumers as a much healthier option than both sugary and zero sugar drinks. The assumption is that because a carton on the shelf is labelled “cranberry juice drink” it must be healthy. The reality is that processed fruit juice is packed with sugar and additives such as fructose (the harmful effects of which there is mounting scientific evidence).

Food companies are legally required not to sell harmful products

Sadly, food companies know only too well that many of their products, namely processed foods are harmful and can significantly contribute to disease. As a result, they’ve had to lobby hard to continue selling junk food or non-GRAS (generally recognised as safe) foods which are packaged as healthy items. One of the ways they’ve done this is cleverly marketing products as “plant-based”, “low-fat” and “reduced sugar,” which are full of non-nutritious ingredients and some of which are positively harmful such as aspartame and trans-fats. Checking a label to find out what exactly one is putting in one’s body is now essential, as so much of what is being sold in the average food store is simply ultra processed junk food with appealing packaging to attract impulse buys.  A simple rule of thumb is, the longer the list of ingredients on the packaging, the more you should swerve the product.

Treating the whole person

Consistent good nutrition is fundamental to our health, our wellbeing, and our survival. Managing our food intake is a critical part of the basic skillset that we rely on for a happy, functional life. But for some, the relationship with food can present a lifelong struggle. The most common eating disorders are bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder (BED).

At Addcounsel, we have a comprehensive understanding not only of the full spectrum of eating disorders, but also of the ways in which these compulsions can intertwine with other conditions. We recognise that these issues can be extremely sensitive and delicate, offering discreet residential eating disorder treatment in a safe, private setting.

Our goal is to treat not only the symptoms of your eating disorder, but to identify the core factors that have led to its development. World-leading professionals in a variety of fields—psychotherapy, hepatology, nutrition, and a range of other disciplines—will take a holistic, approach, building the foundation for long-lasting recovery.

Our dedicated team will help and guide you through the entire process in the comfort and anonymity of our luxury, private addiction and mental health treatment accommodation in Mayfair, Chelsea, Knightsbridge or Notting Hill, London.

Contact us today to start your recovery journey.


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